‘A safe haven’: The impact of Stolen by Smith, as told by QTBIPOC students & faculty

As Instagram account continues to gain traction, students discuss experiences in Commerce; faculty outlines action plan

Three Commerce students speak to how the page has impacted them and their communities. 
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This piece uses “Queer & Trans Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (QTBIPOC)” to refer to the experiences of LGBTQ+ and racialized students. We acknowledge this term is not universal. 

On July 3, the Stolen by Smith Instagram account launched.

Inspired by Black at Harvard Law, Stolen by Smith is a collection of largely anonymous anecdotes of discrimination experienced by students at Queen’s Smith School of Business.

In an interview with The Journal, Kelly Weiling Zou, Comm ’21 said she created the page “to provide a platform for QTBIPOC who are or were students at Smith to share their experiences with racism, sexism, white supremacy, queerphobia, transphobia, and all other forms of oppression.”

Zou recounted an incident that occurred while she was in second year. After reading an op-ed about discrimination within Smith, Zou showed her support for the piece through a Letter to the Editor. Lori Garnier, executive director of Commerce, quickly reached out to meet with her about equity, diversity, & inclusion (EDI) at Smith.

 “After the meeting, no one contacted me about resources and Garnier ignored my requests to meet again,” Zou said, indicating she needed to take more radical action if she hoped to drive change in the Commerce faculty.  

The Commerce Office did not respond to The Journal’s request for comment on Garnier’s failure to follow up with Zou.

“Since then, Smith continually insulates the toxic culture present in its programs by releasing administrative statements that are clearly performative in nature without any commitment to improving the experiences of QTBIPOC students, students with disabilities, and students who have experienced sexual violence,” Zou said.

***

The week following the launch of Stolen by Smith saw the account gain nationwide attention. The page, which had more than 11,300 followers at time of publication, has now amassed more than double the followers of Black at Harvard Law.

Bobby Liang, Comm ’22, viewed the popularity of the page as a necessary awakening.

“There’s never been something as big and as monumental [in Commerce] as this page and these students,” he told The Journal.

Liang felt that, despite the volume of submissions to the page, a lot of Commerce students didn’t previously believe systemic racism existed at Queen’s—even People of Colour (POC).

“There’s a belief that you can always pick yourself up by your bootstraps. It’s a bullsh— idea.”

Joel Vidad, Comm ’23, discovered the page through a private Facebook group and immediately viewed the initiative positively. He said the experiences being posted on the account were already being discussed by BIPOC students at Smith in private, but not publicly.

“Being a POC, we’ve been having these conversations privately with fear of being looked down upon by white peers. This page gives us a safe haven to communicate our stories.”

The submission form for the page allows students to remain anonymous, a decision made purposefully by Zou.

“[A]nonymity is a way to preserve the safety & wellness of QTBIPOC folk,” Zou said.

Liang, who said he’s received backlash after choosing to speak out about racism & queerphobia at Smith, said QTBIPOC commerce students “have been told that they’ll be ostracized [by their peers] because they chose to speak their truths.”

“To critique anonymity is a copout. The problem at hand isn’t that students would lie, but the fact that [Commerce] culture has persistently been violent.”

***

Stolen by Smith’s growth has garnered significant reactions from students, alumni, the Commerce faculty, as well as the University.

On July 8, the Commerce Society published an EDI Course of Action.

Two days later, the inaugural meeting was held for the Smith Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigeneity (EDII) Task Force. The task force will meet weekly and is chaired by Brenda Brouwer, dean of the school of business, and Stephanie Simpson, associate vice-principal (human rights, equity, and inclusion).

Following the first EDII meeting, an email was sent to Smith alumni stating the work of the task force “will be comprehensive and shaped by the experience of our students and alumni and in recognition that we must provide an inclusive and safe experience.”

Immediate next steps were outlined in the email, which included providing all Smith staff with EDII training before the start of the fall term and creating five working groups to address EDII though forming “safe and welcoming spaces,” and “rebuilding trust through dialogue and education.”

Following pressure from the Queen’s Coalition against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination (QCRED), statements were released by both the AMS and Queen’s Rector Sam Hiemstra in support of Stolen by Smith. Hiemstra released his action plan on July 16, while the AMS said it will be releasing an action plan on July 24.

READ MORE: Following criticism, AMS & Rector share support for Stolen by Smith account

Vidad sees the page as an opportunity for individual solidarity and self-reflection. He’s trying to sympathize with the stories told on Stolen by Smith and has reached out to his BIPOC friends in Commerce to ensure they’re able to cope with the situation.

Liang said he’s re-evaluated his role in perpetuating some of the aspects of Commerce life which submissions to Stolen by Smith aim to critique.

“I believe in a lot of these ideals of equality and treating people with respect. I also contribute to commerce culture. I’m on three ComSoc clubs. I participate a lot in the social circles that are perceived as quite toxic. What is my role in pushing the barrel forward?”

Regarding the perception of Commerce culture being toxic, Liang mentioned the idealization of obtaining executive roles within ComSoc, which he said are granted on the basis of academic ability and what he calls “fit,” which he said often meets a homogeneous criterion.

“If an entire club is staffed with white people of a similar background […] this idea of ‘fit’ has to bend to their definition.”

***

Discussing how she’d like Queen’s to address the needs of QTBIPOC students moving forward, Zou pointed to the importance of backing support with action and implementing EDI in all aspects of university life.

“I want to see the school make commitments and follow through with them, especially through investing their money into the wellbeing of QTBIPOC students.”

At Smith specifically, Zou wants accountability measures implemented to address drinking culture, hazing, and other discriminatory practices within extracurricular organizations.

Liang said he’d like to see all Smith students be alerted to the specific steps Garnier will take to support students who have had similar experiences to those expressed in the Stolen by Smith page.

“[Garnier] telling us that she knows we’re hurt is not enough. It doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

Vidad spoke to his experiences in the classroom. He wants to see professors make discussions of BIPOC issues more commonplace and provide additional support for racialized students who may feel targeted or uncomfortable during these discussions.

Vidad also wants prospective students to think critically about the stories told on the account.

“As a first-year, I really wish I knew these experiences coming into Smith. Incoming first-years should take the time to know what they’re going into.”

While prioritizing their own comfort and well-being, Vidad encouraged students to call out racism and educate their peers whenever the opportunity arises.

Liang extended his support to current students and is optimistic that the Smith community can come out stronger than before. He also had a message for Queen’s international students.

“[B]e proud of bringing your identities to this school […] the fact that you can be proud of your culture and country is so powerful.”

“So many of us recognize now that we should all come out from our place of silence and speak out for our international peers.”

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